What is a summary of "The Chimney Sweeper " by William Blake?

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pirateteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" was written in 1789 during the French and Industrial Revolutions. It is made up of six stanzas and four lines each (called a quatrain).  These quatrains follow a specific rhythmic pattern- AABB CCDD EEFF GGHH IIJJ KKLL.  The poem also follows a musical diction which makes the poem easily sung.

The poem opens with a young boy explaining how he became a chimney sweeper.  When he was very young his mother died and his father put him to work as a chimney sweep; a tough and dirty job where young boys climbed into chimneys to sweep out the soot.

Theres little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head

That curl’d like a lambs back, was shav’d, so I said.

Hush Tom never mind it, for when your head’s bare,

You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.

The focus shifts to another young sweeper, Tom Dacre, who had curly hair that was shaved.  The narrator seeks to calm him saying that since his head is now shaved, the soot can no longer mess it up.  Once calm, Tom goes to sleep and dreams that all of the sweepers are in coffins.

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,

And he open’d the coffins & set them free.

Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run

And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

In his dream, Tom sees a Angel who saves the boys free from death (or their sweeper lives).  While the beginning of the poem is sad, this optimistic and positive tone shifts the reader, so that by the 5th stanza the boys are playing while the angel tells Tom that God wants him to be a good boy.

And the Angel told Tom if he’d be a good boy,

He’d have God for his father & never want joy.

When Tom wakes up the next morning the weather is dreary and cold, but he is happy because he knows that if they work hard they do not have to worry about danger and will be rewarded.

Tho’ the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm,

So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.


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